Oscar Afterthoughts: Two Tales of Slavery

Two different stories of slavery played out in theatres this year, one earning oscar kudos and the other slipping silently into the night.  There is no doubt that Twelve Years A Slave, directed by British contemporary artist turned Hollywood film director Steve McQueen, has put his stamp on a powerful tale about hope and the resilience of the human condition.  Summed up in the words of the film’s character Solomon Northup “I don’t want to survive I want to live.”  Who doesn’t? We all like films, where there is a distinct storyline where a hero overcomes surmountable odds.  These films/stories inspire us to overcome our own obstacles in life, and we feel uplifted for a momentary amount of time.  On the other side of things, Captain Phillips, through British director Paul Greengrass’s direction, and the compelling performances of Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi,  presents us with the very real possibility of  another kind of oppression which cant be so easily overcome even with the right ethics and moral outlook.  This is presented to us through Muse the Pirate’s own circumstances of slavery.  His story is, that he is held remotely at gunpoint to hijack ships off the coast of Somalia, which is an indefinite situation in the context of an ongoing civil war in Somalia.  This is actually a present day reality, and there is a kind of underlying terror to this tale, in which there is no possibility in sight for a differential space to emerge in which Muse can “truly live.”  At least, this seems to be the case in this ficitonal/dramatized version of  the rescue of Captain Phillips as it unfolds.  After all, the American and British military are not there to rescue Muse or the young Somali men from their nightmare.  Greenlgrassi’s film subtly points out the irony of how easy it is to not register disenfranchisement, when Phillips asks Muse in bewilderment “There’s got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people,” to which Muse replies “Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.”  

Abdi beautifully renders the hopelessness of Muse, with a subtly that gets under your skin, and confronts us with the harsh reality  that, it is not that we turn a blind eye to oppression, that  inequality to exists, but that we are unable to see or recognize it, because we are unable to step out of our own reality and into another’s shoes.


The film still image is released by Sony – Columbia Pictures shows, from left, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali in “Captain Phillips.” (AP Photo/Sony – Columbia Pictures, Jasin Boland)

Creative Commons License
Oscar Afterthoughts: Two Tales of Slavery by Sandra e. Lim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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